Canada's war criminal Kanao Inouye.
His story began, ironically enough, in Kamloops, British Columbia. Kanao Inouye was the precocious only son of Japanese immigrants. His father, Tadashi, was born in Tokyo and had emigrated to British Columbia. During WWI, Tadashi had served in the 131st battalion of the New Westminster Regiment and was awarded the Military Medal. He returned to British Columbia and became a naturalized Canadian citizen in 1920. According to Kanao's testimony at his first trial, his youth in Canada was almost idyllic. He enjoyed his schoolwork and got along well with his mostly white schoolmates. The others even considered him a teacher's pet. After his graduation from the Vancouver Technical High School, his family urged him to go to Japan for higher studies.
Even though his father died in 1926, Inouye's family still had substantial connections in Japanese industry. His grandfather, Chotahara Inouye, was president of Keio Electric Tramways and a member of both Japan's Parliament and House of Peers. It was hoped that young Inouye's dual knowledge of English and Japanese customs would make him an ideal middleman in the burgeoning trade between Asia and America. But he found it difficult to make the transition from one culture to another. As a Nisei (a Japanese born outside the homeland), he was viewed with suspicion. Moreover, he found it impossible to engage in the small talk that is an integral part of socialising. If anything, he longed to return to Canada: "We used to go together with other Nisei's and they always came around and asked us what we fellows were doing in Japan because we were not wanted there."
On one occasion he was seen in the company of a Nisei reporter working for an American newspaper Inouye was arrested, questioned and subjected to water torture. As part of this procedure, the victim is tied up or otherwise restrained. Water is forced down his throat until his stomach becomes distended and a wet towel is kept on the face to stimulate drowning. This excruciating torture could go on indefinitely. Inouye had to go to a sanatorium for several months to regain his health.
In May 1942, he was conscripted as a civilian interpreter and sent to the prisoner camps in Hong Kong. Suddenly, he was back in the company of Canadians, the survivors of the ill-fated "C" Force that had been sent to defend Hong Kong. They would have vivid recollections of the interpreter from Kamloops.
One prisoner remembered him as "bigger than his colleagues, quite handsome, bright and terribly mean. He made it known that he had been called a yellow bastard in Canada, and that now he was top dog." Another recalled how "Inouye went out of his way to be offensive to Canadian prisoners. He continually directed very foul and abusive language at them."
Nicknamed "Slap Happy" and the "Kamloops Kid,"he taunted the prisoners with rants about the Rising Sun flag flying over Ottawa and their sisters being raped by the victorious Imperial Japanese Army. His very name sparked dread and loathing among the prisoners. At dusk he would sometimes appear at the door of a hut and whisper "Where is Slap Happy?" If the soldiers responded and fell for the ruse, he would take them outside for a beating. Shortly after Japan's surrender, Inouye was seen in Kowloon by liberated Canadian prisoners and was arrested.
As Canada had no occupation forces in the Far East all war crimes trials would be conducted by the British military However, the unique circumstances of a Canadian torturing Canadian prisoners ensured that the military would not let his case rest. Ottawa had dispatched legal officers to conduct cases of concern to Canada and Major George Puddicombe, a WWI veteran anda Montreal lawyer, was assigned to Inouye's prosecution. Also assigned to the case was Canadian army interpreter, Roy Ito. Puddicombe was concerned that Inouye's defence might be based on allegations of his mistreatment in Canada and he instructed Ito to be prepared to go into the witness stand to rebut these charges. Ito, a Nisei who had experienced discrimination in his youth, wondered just how he would respond. However, that issue would not arise during the court martial.
The first charge levelled against Inouye arose from a beating he had given to two Canadian officers on 21 December 1942. On the assembly parade that morning, two men were missing and the camp commandant angrily accused two officers, Norris and Atkinson, of helping their escape. In a fury, the commandant ordered Inouye to slap the officers. He proceeded to do so with gusto, and after they collapsed, he continued to kick them on the ground. Atkinson was so badly beaten about the face that he almost lost an eye. A few days later, Inouye tried to apologise and explain that he had lost his temper Norris refused to accept the tendered apology.
Far more serious charges concerned Inouye's later career In September 1943 he was transferred to Singapore and shortly thereafter discharged. He returned to Japan in March 1944 and joined one of his relative's import-export firms. His story took an unexpected romantic twist when the court martial was told of his liaison with a Hong Kong tea room operator, Ho Wai Ming.
She had been known as Mrs. W.R. Parker, the divorced wife of a Shanghai police official. Inouye had fallen in love with her and supported her even after the authorities closed all the tea rooms. However, they could not marry until he received his family's permission. He obtained this in early 1944 and returned to Hong Kong where he was promptly drafted by the secret police, the Kempeitei, as an interpreter. His duties involved ferreting out spies and traitors, and his new wife's connections in Hong Kong proved a decided asset.
While the prisoner of war camps had been brutal and inhumane, the work of the Kempeitei was simple murder. Suspects were routinely tortured till they died. The few survivors recounted their torture in vivid detail and pointed to Inouye as the man who had conducted these sessions. One of these witnesses, Rampal Ghilote, described Inouye as the "chief torturer of my body and soul." Ghilote was accused of being part of a ring of Indian soldiers and civil servants who were still loyal to the British cause and who were sending messages to the British in India. Another witness, Lam Sik, was accused of sending messages to the Nationalist Chinese and endured the water torture from Inouye. As these witnesses trooped into court to tell their stories they looked at Inouye with unmasked hatred and identified him as the man who had subjected them to excruciating torment.
Perhaps the most powerful witness was a 55-year-old British woman, Mary Power She was also implicated in spying and was given the water torture by Inouye. After nearly drowning for a half hour, she was left suspended from a hook with her feet barely touching the ground. Inouye then took a lighted cigarette and burned her face, cheeks and hands until she fainted from pain. In his defence, he argued that he always considered himself a Canadian compelled to assist with the translations.
Court President Lieutenant Colonel J.C. Stewart had little sympathy for Inouye. He had committed such acts of "wanton and barbarous cruelty that it was a mere accident of fate whether the victims survived or not." Moreover, his culpability was all the greater in that he had been raised in Canada and it should have "impressed on your mind the decent ways of civilised people." He was sentenced to hang. Inouye's lawyer then appealed and attacked the validity of the court martial. He succeeded.
On 19 November 1946, the confirming authority concluded that as Inouye was a Canadian citizen he could not be tried for war crimes as an enemy soldier and the conviction was quashed. This unexpected result generated a spurt of telegrams from Ottawa questioning whether Canada's Number One war criminal of the Pacific War was simply going to walk away unpunished. Both External Affairs and DND sent out tentative requests to extradite Inouye to Canada for trial. However, he had left too many victims in Hong Kong to remain unmolested. In December 1946 he was again charged, this time with treason, and bound over for trial.
At his criminal trial in April 1947, he displayed a chameleon-like ability to change his story to suit his audience. Now, he insisted that he was a simple soldier doing his duty. He had been glad to leave Canada for he had endured discrimination and felt "embittered against the Canadian people." Upon reaching military age, he had eagerly joined the Japanese Imperial Army and served in the China campaign. He felt proud to serve in the Kempeitei and root out spies against his country's war effort. At one point in his testimony he sprang to attention and called out "My body is the Emperor's body. Long live the Emperor!" The presiding judge, Sir Henry Blackall, looked calmly down at Inouye and told him that there was no need for theatrics.
Yet the evidence of his brutality was even more ghastly than that brought to light at his previous trial. The quiet testimony of the mother of one if his victims breathed life into the story of her son's torture and execution. Inouye appeared doomed until his lawyer raised an ingenious legal argument. Reaching back to cases from the 1700s, he argued that, where a person who owed no allegiance to the British Crown committed treasonable acts, he could not be convicted of treason. As Inouye had clearly renounced any allegiance to Canada by joining the Japanese army in 1937, his allegiance was strictly to Japan.
On this issue, Inouye's case was strangely similar to that of Lord "Haw Haw" in England. In that case, William Joyce had posed as a British subject while doing propaganda broadcasts for Nazi Germany. However, he was an Irish-born, naturalized American who legally did not appear to owe any fealty to the King. Nevertheless, he was executed for treason in a decision that caused considerable disquiet to legal scholars. However in Inouye's case it was stressed that in his previous trial he had given sworn testimony that he was a Canadian and that he had never renounced that citizenship. After hours of legal argument, Sir Henry summed up for the jury that they should decide whether Inouye was motivated "by pure patriotic motives" or whether he was "nursing a grievance against the Anglo-Saxon race."
After deliberating a mere ten minutes they found Inouye guilty. Sir Henry donned the black cap and again Kanao Inouye heard the sentence of death proclaimed over him Another appeal to the Hong Kong Courts proved fruitless and his merry chase of trials and appeals came to an end a few months later. On 26 August 1947, the interpreter from Kamploops was hanged at the Stanley prison.
In the context of the times, Canada's eagerness to see that punishment was administered to Inouye could be dismissed as revenge or "victor's justice." To seek meaning in Inouye's trial it is necessary to recognise it as part of the ongoing process to see that war criminals are made to face justice even after the end of the conflict. For those individuals who so grossly violate the laws of war, either by beating prisoners of war or torturing civilians, it is important to realise that at some time they may have to stand in a prisoner's dock and answer for those crimes.
As Canadians learned in Somalia, it is vital that there be an accounting and that criminals, whether they wear the enemy's or our own country's uniform, face justice. Viewed in that light, Inouye's trial was part of humanity's determination, now on display at the International Court at The Hague, that war criminals may not escape a final reckoning.